Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Racist allegations - some real evidence

One aspect of the current unpleasant & untruthful campaign against Steiner schools & Anthroposophy is the attempt to brand Waldorf schools & educators as racist. The line or argument goes that Steiner's own views were racist & anti-Semitic, therefore teachers who (according to the critics) follow Steiner blindly cannot help but follow him in that too. One commentator has even rolled out a quote in which a minor apparatchik of the Nazi Party, I imagine prior to the banning of Waldorf schools in Germany, attempts to claim Waldorf schools as close in spirit to National Socialism. It's sad, but not unfortunately not so strange, that people who make so much of the accusation that Waldorf educators are uncritical of Steiner demonstrate so little scrutiny towards their own claims.

The critics  have extrapolated from a small selective sample of  quotes from Steiner, & provide the crudest of possible account of Steiner's indications about human evolution to "prove" their case. They conveniently ignore so anything that contradicts their tendentious arguments.

In terms of the "racism" accusation, the following from a report of research conducted by Professor Christian Pfeiffer of Hanover University should put the critics claims into some sort of perspective, although I doubt any of them would be able to recognise the irony:  

According to the study led by Christian Pfeiffer, Professor of Criminology, pupils at Waldorf schools exhibit the lowest levels of both xenophobia and right-wing extremism. At Hauptschulen (the lowest tier of the German three-tiered school system), 24.7% of pupils harbour xenophobic and 9.5% right-wing tendencies. This drops to 8.3% and 1.9% respectively at Gymnasiums (the highest tier school, the equivalent of grammar schools). But only 2.8% of Waldorf pupils can be considered to have xenophobic and 1.2% right-wing attitudes. This evaluation is based on information obtained from 9,001 youngsters attending the 9th year at schools in Germany.

According to these figures, Hauptschule pupils show three times more xenophobia than Gymnasium pupils, and Gymnasium pupils three times more than Waldorf pupils. This clearly very low figure is especially striking when seen in conjunction with the fact that in some other categories (e.g. graffiti-spraying, shop-lifting and truancy) the study shows Waldorf pupils to be level-pegging with Hauptschule pupils and way above Gymnasium pupils.

The results regarding ‘macho’ attitudes are even more striking, with Waldorf pupils scoring an extremely low rating: Only 0.3% of ninth-year pupils agreed with statements such as ‘A man who is not prepared to react to insults with violence is a weakling’, or ‘If a woman cheats on her husband it is o.k. for him to beat her’. For Gymnasium pupils the figure was almost seven time higher (2.0%), and for Hauptschule pupils compared with Gymnasium pupils ‘only’ a bit over four times more (8.7%).

Especially in categories where derogatory stereotyping is most frequent (i.e. against women and against foreigners), this shows the attitudes of Waldorf pupils to be a great deal more up to date than those of their fellow pupils elsewhere. This in turn corresponds with the attitude expressed by Steiner in his written works, especially his description of the human being in the final chapter ‘Individuality and Genus’ of his main work The Philosophy of Freedom:
So - here's the conundrum: an educational philosophy based on allegedly "racist ideas", with "racist" teachers somehow results in young people whom an independent academic researcher evaluates to be statistically far less racist than their peers. Curious....

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